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Kamloops city gardener talks about alternatives to pesticides

June 13, 2015 - 2:32 PM

KAMLOOPS – A few bugs or noxious weeds are not enough to throw city gardeners off their game, not when they have goats and ladybugs on their side.

Kirsten Wourms, a head gardener with the citiy, manages a complex weed and pest management schedule that uses organic methods wherever possible to keep Kamloops green, clean and problem free.

The schedule is called integrated pest management, a series of escalating methods to control bugs and weeds. Various methods from hand weeding to biological and chemical controls are all part of the plan.

“In the nature parks we’ve actually released a lot of… little bugs that eat specific weeds and grass.” Wourms says, describing some non-chemical methods used. “In the greenhouse, we’ve released ladybugs… (and) parasitic wasps.”

While the goats are perhaps the most visible pest control method used, eating the seed heads off of weeds in parks for several weeks each summer, the city uses a diverse system of organic means. Wourms has also used corn gluten, an agent that actually coats the weed seeds preventing them from sprouting, as well as using a rolling machine over park trails that spouts hot steam over weeds. 

Goats can eat many weeds toxic to other animals, making them an ideal form of noxious weed control.
Goats can eat many weeds toxic to other animals, making them an ideal form of noxious weed control.

 

While these methods, along with clove oil and chamomile tea, have proven effective, one of the best methods has been vinegar.

“Vinegar is unbelievable, I use it at home, too.” Wourms says.

It works especially well in areas with hard surfaces, like park paths or the cracks in your driveway. Wourms puts the vinegar in a spray bottle and after two to four treatments, the weeds are gone.

“A lot of times with the vinegar, if it’s a really hard surface, I’ll put some salt down as well. It kind of smells like salt and vinegar chips.”

Through the pest management program Wourms and her crew try to use pesticides only as a last resort. Pesticides are only used after a number of non-chemical treatments fail.

“The very last step is to use anything chemical,” she says. “The city is definitely practicing ‘what else can we do’.”

If weeds amass in a huge area that might result in five parks people needing to hand-pull for five days, Wourms would then consider chemicals.

“What’s the cost recovery benefit of that, is it going to be as effective if we do a spray?”

Sometimes pests get so bad any means is deemed necessary, Wourms says, explaining how pine beetles decimated 90 per cent of the pines in Kamloops. 

“There was no chemical for them, but there were some hormones and things that could be used,” she says.

Even then, Wourms would rather use other alternatives. When the tussock moth and the spruce bud worm targeted Douglas fir trees, traps were set in parks to monitor bug levels. When the levels become high, the city now uses a naturally occurring, non-chemical pesticide, BTK, to help control them.

“Luckily, though, we haven’t had to spray for three years now,” Wourms says.

If a city-wide pesticide ban does pass, currently a motion council will consider in mid-July, Wourms says not much will change in her department.

“If there is a pesticide ban, I think the biggest thing is going to be the change in public perception,” she says.

We’d have to realize dandelions aren’t that big of a deal, she says, and parks might also get a lot weedier. Wourms says it’s all about changing ideas of what acceptable or tolerable limits are.

City Parks employee in action.
City Parks employee in action.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Dana Reynolds at dreynolds@infonews.ca or call 250-819-6089. To contact an editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
InfoTel News Ltd

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